Tuesday, 26 February 2013

February Moths

There are around 2,500 species of moths in the UK, most of which are night flying.   In Scotland the species count is roughly half that figure at approximately 1,300, according to Scottish Natural Heritage.   Moving north the number of species reduces further and combined with a restricted range of habitats, Brian Neath, the county recorder for both West Ross and Skye has records for only around 320 species or so for Skye and Lochalsh.   There may be more but the area is under-recorded.

Many night-flying moths are attracted to a light, and there are two main designs which use this principle to trap moths without causing them harm.   The Robinson trap is I guess is more professional and efficient than the Skinner trap, but the latter has the advantage of being cheaper and can easily be built at home.   I built one about 3 years ago from a design I found on the internet - sadly I can no longer find the link.  

We have probably put the trap out a dozen times or so, mostly in the summer, and to date we have found approximately 85 species.    This year I am trying to put the trap out each month, because the time of flight of most moth species is restricted to particular times.  So last weekend with a clear dry night, and no wind, though maybe a bit cool, I put the trap out near the garden and the pine and spruce trees.   I caught only one moth, a Dotted Border, which is described as common throughout Britain.   In August by comparison the count would be over 100.

The next night I found another species on the kitchen window, this being a Mottled Grey which is anther common species, in flight between March and April (previously I thought it was a Pale Brindled Beauty but Steve Terry corrected me).

We run the trap throughout the night, then photograph the moths at dawn so that we can identify them.  We then cover the trap throughout the day and release the moths the following evening, so that the moths avoid capture by birds.   There are two or three really good books devoted to moth id in the UK and there is an excellent website http://ukmoths.org.uk covering most of the moths found here.   Even so a confirmed species identification can be challenging, and we are very fortunate that Brian Neath is readily available to help with determinations.  

It is interesting that the popular reaction to moths is quite different to that to butterflies (of which there are only around 60 species in Britain)  even though they belong to the same order of insects, Lepidoptera. Butterflies are attractive and beautiful, the subject of paintings and poetry.   Moths by contrast are creatures of the night, and are just a bit too scary.   They also eat clothes.   Moths need a PR strategy.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

The First Signs of Spring?

We made a small pond near the front of the house which is fed intermittently by run off from the hill behind us when it rains (which is not infrequent).   It works brilliantly in encouraging midges in the summer, something of an oversight when I designed it.

For several years we have had frogspawn in it and this year is no exception.    The first frogspawn this year arrived on Feb 15th, roughly a week earlier than last year and almost three weeks earlier than in 2011.  There was more the next day. 

 Last year tadpoles developed but it was months before only a few developed legs, the rest stayed as tadpoles.   This is probably due to low nutrient levels in the pond, and apparently the phenomenon is commoner in the north.  

Yesterday was a terrific day, sunny and no wind.   It brought out flying insects which were particularly attracted to the warm, south facing fence posts near the shore. On the right, I think, is a Common Flower Bug. There were also spiders just above the grass on the fence posts, quickly moving out of sight when approached.  Here again I am guessing but I think on the left is a hunting spider, a Pardosa sp.

We saw otters again.   Last Friday the otter family (mother and 2 cubs) were fishing out over the kelp at high tide.    There have been lots of suggestions about the most reliable time to see otters and the state of the tide is often mentioned, but from my experience it does not seem to be a big issue.   They do though seem to prefer the area of kelp so at high tide it is a deeper dive than at low tide.   After 25 minutes the family swam off to the rock holt near croft #1,   There are several half eaten rock salmon on the shore line.  Then yesterday at dusk we saw what looked like a male otter fishing near the western edge of our croft in Ainort.   

I have been making a pine marten box to a design on the Vincent Wildife Trust website.    We have only once in 6 years had a pine marten on the croft and it turned up three days running in the early evening for peanut butter sandwiches.   I think it got killed on the road some days later.   Pine marten are not uncommon on the other side of the Skye Bridge and on this side at Kyleakin, and they are slowly spreading north.   Any chicken deaths are usually blamed on them though foxes are probably the more likely culprit.

Anyway the box is ready to go, though as it is heavy and measures  0.5m x 0.5m x 0.25m mounting it 4m high up a tree is not a simple task.   All we can do is hope that this new luxurious resting place attracts an animal - though a meteor strike is probably just as likely.